Remembering Sisto Malaspina


Peter Khalil: While as Melburnians, as Victorians and as Australians, we’re all again shocked and angered by the terrorist attack in the heart of Melbourne on Bourke Street on 9 November, it’s probably true to say we’ve been here before. We’ve experienced this collective trauma, this hatred, many times before. Again, in response, we are resolved to defeat the hatred that drives these terrorist attacks. But we’re also deeply saddened by these events, and all our thoughts pour out to the families of the victims. As the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have said in their remarks in the House today, Sisto Malaspina, the co-owner of the iconic, famous Pellegrini’s cafe restaurant, was stabbed and killed by this terrorist.

I, like thousands of Melburnians, knew and loved Sisto. I would go into Pellegrini’s for a coffee or a pasta, and he’d force me to have a dessert on top of that, every time. You can see that he did his job well. His warmth, his joy and his generosity of spirit have been a mainstay in our city for decades. He was full of life, and, in death, he was really a hero, too, because, by all accounts, Sisto’s last act in his very colourful life was an act of kindness in going to the aid of this terrorist when his car caught fire. Sisto could only have assumed that this fellow was in trouble, so the last act in his life was an act of kindness, in going to someone to assist them. The terrorist left his vehicle and stabbed and killed Sisto, but, having done that, he was unable to then drive the car further down Bourke Street to a more crowded location to blow it up. So, if there had been no kindness from Sisto in that last act of his life, many more innocent people would probably have died that day. Sisto’s final act of kindness contrasted so dramatically with the last hateful acts of that murderer, and it undoubtedly saved many lives.

There’s been an outpouring of grief in Melbourne and around Australia, and I think that reflects the joy Sisto gave to so many during his life. But I think his act of kindness also touched a nerve, because it really symbolised the elemental struggle we all face between love and hatred, good and evil, kindness to others as opposed to wanton destruction. He will be so, so missed by the community. His son, David, spoke beautifully about his father at the state funeral, and my condolences also go out to his family and the broader Pellegrini’s family that loved him so much.

As to the causes of these terrorist acts, we’ve discussed this many times in this place. We know that the terrorist was a radicalised individual. There are some reports that he was mentally unstable at the least, and we know that radicalisation preys on those who are vulnerable to that process. Much has been said of the Prime Minister’s calls for Muslim leaders to do more. All I can say is that most of the Islamic and Muslim community leaders—the sheikhs and the imams—particularly in my electorate, and, I know, right across the state and the nation, are working very, very hard to support their youth, to create inclusive environments and to make sure that their young people are on the right path and protected from this radicalisation. And, of course, it’s important to engage with the government on the state and federal level to make that happen and to prevent radicalisation. Of course, we know that our intelligence and security agencies already work so well behind the scenes, and very effectively, with the Muslim community. There is no denying that the Australian Muslim community is absolutely critical to breaking that cycle. The work that they do with our agencies and with state and federal governments is absolutely important.

Let me just say this to the Australian Muslim community and to the community in my electorate and across the nation: you are not responsible for the actions of one individual. We know the work you are doing to actually help fight radicalisation in your own communities. That is something that is as critically important to your communities as it is to the broader Australian community.

We in government, and our agencies, look at the research around radicalisation—what actually works, how we can apply that to both policy and counterterrorism efforts, the mechanisms and avenues that are in place that break down barriers with law enforcement and social, medical and educational services—so that we can reach those individuals before they become a problem. The work that’s done with all of the agencies in government to forge those connections is so important—the connections with community leaders, with family, with friends, who work day to day with their young people to support and include them and actually protect them from harm.

Lastly, I want to say that as political leaders in this place we must make a choice. There are really two types of political leadership. There’s the type that seeks to unite Australians—to work with them, despite their background, their ethnicity or their faith—and seeks to push away the forces of division and hatred. Then there’s the type of leadership—I wouldn’t even call it leadership—the kind of politics that uses fear and preys on the fears of people to divide people based on race, ethnicity or faith. Often, that’s done for short-term political gain. Often it’s done as an easy way—a shortcut—to gain votes. My colleagues and I, and many colleagues on the other side, agree that we need much more of the political leadership that seeks to unite us. When we’re faced with these threats, when we’re faced with these challenges—the threats that we face within our community, but also externally—we have to remain united against those threats. The Australian Muslim community is part of that united team. They’re a critically important part of helping us fight those threats.

In many respects, we owe it to all of the victims of terror—to Sisto, his family, all those injured and all the victims—to get this right, to make this work. In closing, I know that the Malaspina family are suffering greatly at the moment, but they do take great comfort in the knowledge of his remarkable legacy to the city of Melbourne and the joy that he’s given to so many thousands of Melburnians, and interstate and international visitors as well. He really has touched our country in ways that make us proud of the multicultural and migrant country that we live in, because Sisto is the type of person who demonstrates the success of multicultural Australia—the hard work that he did, the life that he built and the joy that he spread around him and his community. May he rest in peace. My condolences to the Malaspina family and all of those who’ve been touched and have suffered under these terrible attacks. May he rest in peace.